Posted in bible reading, book review, family, food, me, music, prayer, recipes

what i’m into – march 2017

Books

Don’t faint or anything, but this month I managed TWO books.

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When my brother, one of the most quietly radical Christians I know, said that A Praying Life had revolutionized his prayer life, I determined to read it. I started it two years ago, got seven chapters in and lost interest. It seemed a bit predictable and repetitive. But I always vowed to take it up again – and, very quickly, it became brilliant. Paul E. Miller is so insightful, with lots of original things to say about everything from anxiety to cynicism to suffering – all whilst encouraging us to develop (or rediscover) a childlike dependence on God. Seriously, every Christian should read this book.

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Then, a little late to the party, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, something I’d been meaning to read since Gordon Brown was at no.10. (Remember him?) It was just as wonderful as I’d expected, and took no time at all to finish.

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(PS I’m still going with Tim and Kathy Keller’s My Rock My Refuge and am only a day behind – woohoo! I thoroughly recommend this if you’re anything like me with daily Bible reading, i.e. need a (dated) kick up the backside to establish a habit!)

Food

After my February ‘What I’m into’ post (which now seems to have vanished – I blame the kiddoes…), where I bemoaned my limited vegetarian vocabulary, my veggie friend Hannah pointed me to her very helpful blog, which contains recipes, meal plans and tips on cooking for vegetarians and vegans. I’ve found it helpful not only for taking recipes as written, but for reminding me what can be done without meat – for example, veggie fajitas, which are so yummy and child-friendly. I took this recipe and adapted it, adding in a few bits we needed to finish up, and baking the rolled fajitas in tomato sauce with a liberal helping of grated cheese on top. Everyone wolfed it down – this happens very rarely in a household where half of the residents change their food likes and dislikes on an hourly basis.

Marinated tofu in black bean sauce was OK, but tofu is a lot more expensive when marinated, and I didn’t think it added much to the dish (protein, obvs, but little flavour). Pretty colours though:

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This vegan jambalaya went down well, especially the Quorn sausage. Does anyone else feel like they’re cheating when they use Quorn though?

The veggie star of the month was Mushrooms Cacciatore, which I served with rigatoni. The lingering cooking time, the veg and the wine, all combined to make a really rich, flavoursome sauce for the pasta – and, most importantly for meat-eaters, we didn’t miss the meat!

I was intrigued by a GP friend going on a High Fat, Low Carbs diet experiment – you can read his blog here. I’ve been aware for a while that processed carbs are not the best, and our dependence on them could lead to some serious health issues in later life – but I was intrigued by the High Fat part. This website explains more.

The recipes looked fun, and we got round to trying the Chicken and Coconut Curry, which we served with Cauliflower Rice instead of the usual white rice, and the Hamburger Patties in a Creamy Tomato Sauce, which was served with a huge pile of buttery fried cabbage instead of a bun. I felt properly full after each of these meals – although I understand from my friend that following this diet to the letter will result in some carb-cravings. I also bought a spiralizer this month, so am looking forward to trying courgetti, squashini and all sorts of other veg-based fillers…more in the April edition of ‘What I’m into’!

Articles

Not exactly an ‘article’, but Jen Wilkin’s incredible talk on raising a child to stand out rather than fit in just blew my mind this month. So much practical guidance in here, without any sense of judgement or weariness. I strongly recommend this for any Christian parent – it’s around an hour long.

I also enjoyed this article from the Guardian on a couple who adopted out of choice rather than necessity.

And, in a month where World Book Day had many parents (me included) reaching for the wine whilst simultaneously trying to hide under a rock, you can’t beat Hurrah for Gin’s hilarious commentary.

Music

This is just WONDERFUL!

…and I’ve discovered that the chord that makes Carole King’s ‘Up on the roof’ so wonderful (a 2nd inversion major 7th, if you were asking) can also be inserted into ‘The Splendour of the King’ for a rather nice, slow-but-powerful end to a worship set! Oh my goodness, is there anything better than Carole King and James Taylor combining their wonderful musical talents? I love how Taylor looks like he’s wandered in after a spot of gardening.

Oh look, I even picked up a guitar myself this month. Pic taken by one of the minions, mid-singing, hence dodgy expression.

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Screentime

We had a rare Whole Evening Without Other Agendas at some point during March, so decided to watch Fargo – it was engaging enough, but I didn’t feel it lived up to its synopsis, with characters under-developed and plot-line not intricate enough to grip us.

In other news…

Don’t get too excited, but this month we made the switch from margarine to butter. There you go, you can exhale now. (Truth be told, I only really made the switch so I could buy a pretty butter dish.)IMG_20170404_212539

Once again, we failed to buy a sofa. (This is a saga which has lasted two years now, and counting.) We moved the old one out, moved a ‘new’ (second-hand) one in, moved the ‘new’ (second-hand) one out, and then moved the old one back in. The Hokey Cokey has nothing on us.

We had a fun weekend with the grandparents, including a visit to a safari park and a fantastic imaginative play centre. And we also had a visit from some old friends we hadn’t seen in years.

My two wonderful Japanese friends came round and prepared the most incredible sushi feast for us and our kids. Shhhh, don’t tell them….it’s the only reason I make friends with Japanese ladies!

I helped a friend move house. And spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing a talk and didn’t do any laundry or tidying for a week. Well, not much. My mind boggles as to how anyone does talks week in, week out. Guess God’s teaching me a bit of empathy for my other half then 😉

Oh, and I used my PTA perk of a Booker card to stockpile Creme Eggs, my absolute favourite chocolate!

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How has your March been?

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog – go check it out!

Posted in book review, family, food, me, recipes, school

what i’m into – january 2017

This is a first for me.

At first, I thought this sort of post was incredibly self-centred – why would anyone be interested what I’ve been into each month? But having spent a couple of years reading other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog (give it a read here), I’ve realised that I’m just a little bit nosey. I love seeing what others are reading, watching, listening to. It gives me ideas for the future, things to look into or try out. So, here’s my offering, for any similarly-nosey Desertmum readers. Who knows? You may go away with a killer book recommendation or at least a laugh at how ridiculously geeky I am. And you get to check out other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, all linked at the bottom of Leigh’s, if you so wish.

Books

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I am hopeless at reading. There is precious little time to read, and when it does turn up, I read very slowly. Remember when I did that book-a-month thing, two years ago? It lasted till about April, when my friend Kirsty lent me a wonderful but long non-fiction book in tiny font. Guess she didn’t get the memo. I finally completed it around Christmas 2016, a mere 20 months after starting it. This momentous occasion opened up all sorts of delights in my ever-growing reading pile. I settled on Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist which I’ve been enjoying more and more with each chapter. I love her gracious storyteller style, her acknowledgement of the full scope of feminism (rather than simply up-front leading), her love of Jesus, and her adherence to Scripture. I suspect her book is not meant for people like me, who have never questioned the role of women in Scripture or in modern day church life – but it’s tying various strands of theology together for me in a very helpful way.

Another thing I’m hopeless at is any sort of regular devotional time. Timothy Keller is kindly sorting me out on that one, with his excellent My Rock, My Refuge, which takes the reader through the Psalms in one year. My prayer/accountability triplet are going through this during 2017 and it’s been a blessing to all three of us. Short, encouraging, thought-provoking, and the Bible passage is written out on the page, so it couldn’t be easier. I’ll say that again: the Bible passage is written out on the page. It literally takes NO EFFORT to read this devotional guide, but the outcome makes me think, leads me to Jesus and propels me into prayer.

I’ve been getting more and more excited about the Suzuki method of learning music, and the twins’ Suzuki teacher kindly lent me Everything depends on how we raise them (by Shigeki Tanaka, trans. Kyoko Selden). I’m not too far into it just yet, but it’s proving an interesting foil to my years of secondary music education experience. I’m planning a blog post on Suzuki and adoption very soon – watch out, this is the year I’m being super-motivated on the blog (remember??) so it may actually happen.

Food

In 2016 I challenged myself to cook without recipes for an entire year. I managed it more-or-less, and taught myself how to bake cakes and brownies from scratch. (Sadly, I never mastered cookies. Sob.) This year, I’m much enjoying the stimulation of new ideas from recipe books (and although I haven’t yet baked any cookies, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them anytime soon). So what have I been cooking?

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Simply Nigella was found in a charity shop just before Christmas, when I should have been shopping for others, but who can resist a one-year-old hardback recipe book for £3, eh? During my year of recipe books, I discovered that Nigella’s recipes just really work for us. They’re tasty, most likely to get eaten by the majority of our family, and not too fussy (or, where they are, they can be easily simplified). So it was a joy to properly delve into a new (to me) book. We enjoyed her Chicken Traybake with Bitter Orange and Fennel, and Chicken and Wild Rice. The adults, not the kids (unpredictably), enjoyed the Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese, but I was the only one who enjoyed the Cauliflower and Cashew Nut Curry.

Martha Collison’s Twist has just been brilliant. A Christmas present from my Mum (technically ‘+ Dad’ but, come on, we all know who actually chose it), this has been wonderful in leading me on from last year’s recipe desert to a place where I can take a recipe as a starting point, then add my own flavours and ‘twists’. OK, so I haven’t done that yet, but that’s largely because Martha’s own flavours are so damn enticing – and, as well, there’s 7-5-2-2 to consider. I’ve made the Route 66 Rocky Road (think rocky road made with popcorn, cranberries, peanuts and marshmallows), Bollywood Bars (white chocolate rocky road with cardamom and chilli) and the rather scrummy Carrot, Orange and Blueberry layer cake.

If you were reading desertmum in 2015 you may remember how brilliant Jo Pratt’s Madhouse Cookbook was – well, it still is, and I spent January trying to find the few recipes I haven’t already tried: only Corned Beef and Sweetcorn Hash, and Vegetable and Beany Gonzales Chilli were attempted – but, predictably, the latter was eaten by ALL 6 of my family, with one (fussy) child demolishing it in seconds!

Mince was great in reminding me about meatloaf – essentially meatballs (which I cook often) but in a different shape. Genius.

Articles

Here are some online articles I found particularly wonderful this month:

How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence  was an interesting and challenging read, especially the bit about not using screens to pacify small children. Ouch. But good ouch.

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop telling us we’re beautiful I’m very grateful that the women’s ministry I enjoy locally doesn’t patronise our intelligence or our theology, but this was still an interesting read, and a warning too.

How to live under an unqualified president Of all the things I’ve read on Trump, this was the best by far…I either see incredible Trump-bashing, or (less often) right-wing Christians being sympathetic to him. All American citizens should read this. Honestly? It’s a brutal condemnation of all the ungodly, un-Biblical behaviour of America’s new president BUT it’s written with so much love and grace, and an unshakeable faith in God to work above and beyond world leaders, that the whole thing filled me with hope and assurance.

Anger and injustice My wonderful friends moved to rural Ethiopia last year, and I just love their blog, when there is time or Internet connection to update. In particular, this article was thought-provoking – some reflections of our friend as he looks back on the first few months teaching in an African theological college.

Doing Well Another friend writes so articulately about life as a bereaved parent with MS that I feel my understanding rockets in the few short minutes I take to read her blog. Please read this, it’s important.

Screentime

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January was the month I decided I was fed up of making excuses why I never made it to the cinema, so when a friend recommended La La Land, I immediately made plans to see it with a different friend. I really enjoyed it – she wasn’t so sure. I think enjoyment involves, to some extent, lifting off any expectations based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein golden era of musicals – and also more recent offerings like Moulin Rouge and the various Disney musicals. This is definitely a musical for the 2010s. I didn’t find any of the songs memorable or catchy, but the feel of the whole thing is so glorious that it almost didn’t matter. Bizarrely, whilst I couldn’t hum any of the tunes after the film had ended, I had the general musical tempo/instrumentation/rhythms in my head for some weeks afterwards. So it does get under your skin.

I always enjoy spending January catching up with things I taped over Christmas when I was too busy to watch. One was The lady in the van, Alan Bennett’s fantastic re-telling of a rather eccentric woman in his life. Maggie Smith is so good that I forgot she was Maggie Smith until half way through. AND this film made it into the small overlap of films that both I and Desert Dad enjoy. No small feat. Saving Mr Banks didn’t quite make it into the centre of this Venn diagram, so the hubster trundled off to bed – but I found it so engaging that I watched into the wee hours, not daring to switch off.

I couldn’t get into Northern Soul, though, despite trying for the best part of an hour. One of the few films I haven’t finished.

Games

We’re big fans of games in our household, particularly strategy ones for the adults. My Christmas present from DD was Splendour, which we’ve enjoyed countless times this month. Its advantages are: you can play with just two (but we have had a few games of four with friends, and it works equally well), the games are short for this genre (half an hour or less), it’s simple to pick up – but, like the best strategy games, has a vast number of different strategies you can use to win. Also – strategy game fans will know I’m not being shallow here – the game is made so nicely! Beautiful pictures, proper, weighty coins, and the box fits everything perfectly. Nice!

jacket, Dobble

With the kids, we’ve enjoyed much Dobble, and a new one for Christmas: Blink (readily available on eBay, once that link expires). If you have primary-aged children in your home, or you buy presents for some, I highly recommend both of these.

In other news…

I managed to keep the downstairs tidy (by my standards, i.e. a little lower than average) for an entire month! Woohoo!

I think I saw the bottom of a laundry basket at some point, but the memory quickly faded.

The kiddoes, as usual, went to more parties than I did.

We caught up with American friends we hadn’t seen in 3.5 years, a British friend we hadn’t seen in over a year, a cousin we see intermittently, and made a trip to the in-laws for a special birthday.

I enjoyed an afternoon’s training in Dalcroze Eurythmics, knowing this means nothing to about 99% of my readers, but throwing it in there anyway as a proud moment.

Oh…and our school which was in Special Measures? It got a GOOD from Ofsted! Just about our proudest moment for the month, and possibly the year!

…and that’s about it for January. What have you been into?

 

Posted in book review, recipes

may-mie oliver

Straight off, I’d like to apologise for the bad pun (which only really works if you read it aloud). It’s Month 5, and inspiration is running thin.

And then the next thing is this: friends, I’m afraid to admit that this is the month where I came unstuck. This is the month where my previously iron-hard resolve to cook from a different cook book each month crumbled and softened to the point where all I could do was gaze wistfully at said book every couple of days, in the hope that this would count for something.

Let me rewind a little. A couple of months ago, invigorated by how well this whole cookbook-a-month plan was working out, I found myself looking for cookbooks in the closing-down sale of a local charity shop. To my utter amazement, I found a hardback copy of ‘Jamie At Home‘ staring me in the face. I took it to the counter where the conversation flowed thus:

Shop assistant (older, male – if that should make any difference): “Who’s this then?” (looking at the book)

Me: “Uh…it’s Jamie Oliver. He’s like a really famous chef.”

Shop assistant: “Oh.” (Pause.) 

Me: “You know – he’s on the telly and stuff?”

Shop assistant: “25p.”

I could hardly believe my luck – the book which would usually cost the same as a meal out, was costing me less than a tin of tomatoes. Fast-forward to May, and the time came for me to use this book as my main source of recipes for the month. I couldn’t wait.

The first week went OK – homemade calzone (yum!), some nice pasta dishes, strange-sounding-but-good butternut squash muffins. And then I struggled. The book is structured around seasonal ingredients – fruit, veg and meat – which is not a problem in itself, but does mean that lots of the recipes are pretty simple things that you would usually throw together without written instructions. And, of course, the recipes are simple to allow the beauty of in-season tomatoes or bright-pink rhubarb to shine through – great if you own an allotment, not so great if you’re buying in all your veg (albeit from a local supplier). Also, because the recipes go through all four seasons – a calendar year – 3/4 of the book is out-of-season anyway.

So, I diversified. I decided to throw in my other Jamie Oliver cookbook to May’s cooking (Happy Days with the Naked Chef). From here, we tried Toad-in-the-Hole, Vegetable curry, Beef stew with Newcastle Brown Ale and Dumplings, and Chicken Breast baked in a bag with mushrooms, butter, white wine and thyme.

They were all lovely – but by then it was only half-way through the month and there really was not much else to try for a normal family meal.

I feel awful. I really do. It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend who has been nothing but sweet and kind – and yet the chemistry just doesn’t work. A classic case of “It’s not you, it’s me”. I know Jamie Oliver is not everyone’s cup of tea, but to me he’s someone I admire and respect and love to watch on TV. He has a great charisma, a real strength of drawing people in, and makes you feel like you can do it. I love what he’s doing for food culture in this country, I appreciate the diversity of his interest in food – and, amazingly, he even seems to have an incredibly grounded family life.

But, for me, his cookbooks don’t work. Fun to read, not so practical to cook from. Time-consuming and wordy (not ideal when dinner has to be on the table NOW NOW NOW). Either impossible ingredients (Essex Fried Rabbit, anyone?) or things I could do with my eyes shut (Roast new potatoes with sea salt and rosemary, for example).

This doesn’t mean that his recipes don’t work for anyone. I would imagine that if you’re just starting out in cooking and need to gain a little confidence, Jamie would be great. Also, if you’re an experienced cook who has great swathes of time to try out new and exciting restaurant-style dishes, Jamie has a lot to offer. But, for me and my little life at the moment, the chemistry’s just not working.

Jamie, I’m so sorry – honestly. I will continue to watch you on telly, grab helpful foodie tips from you about how to season things, how to throw flavours together, perhaps pick up some snazzy new ways to cook chicken – but, with regret, your cookbooks are going to the charity shop. Where, hopefully, they’ll pick up more than 25p.

Posted in food, hospitality, recipes

april recipe spring-clean

Goodness me, it’s nearly June, and I’m hurriedly writing up April’s recipe challenge so that you won’t notice the short time-lag when I smoothly write up May next week…will you promise not to notice? Pretty please??

I went a little off-kilter for April and, being in the mood for a spring-clean, decided to have a good sort out of all my loose recipes. You know the ones – those you cut out from food publications and supermarket magazines and odd recipe cards and things you’ve picked up from friends. They all sit in a little box on my kitchen windowsill until I get round to making them. Which is usually never. So, instead of cooking from one recipe book, I decided to cook from one recipe box, using up as many of these recipes as possible.

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It was an interesting challenge because, unlike the other months, of course all the recipes were coming from different sources. I found the Co-op magazine to be, largely, brilliant. A fantastically quick, yummy sweet-and-sour marinade for fish, an easy oregano and lemon chicken traybake, decent falafel, and sweet potato pies: a surprisingly flavoursome veggie dinner to add to our repertoire. Pudding-wise, the hot cross bun pudding with salted brandy caramel was immense – a scrumptious combination of everything good about Easter and Christmas cooking.

The Waitrose magazine was a winner too. We enjoyed a quick but delicious one-pot roast chicken supper, Scandinavian chicken, banana and coconut bread ‘n’ butter pudding, and Moroccan meatloaf. The latter fell apart, but I think I know why and it was entirely my fault. All of these I would make again in a flash.

When distant friends visited for an evening, we tried zaalouk, a Moroccan aubergine and tomato dip, with (shop-bought) flatbreads. This recipe had come on a Riverford recipe card, and was definitely one I’d try again with it’s gorgeous flavour combinations and kick of harissa. They also provided us with another curry recipe for our growing portfolio of Indian dishes – this one a lemony chicken and spinach curry with enough flavour for us grown-ups but not too much spice for the littlies. And they encouraged us to use leftover tahini to make a dressing for stir-fried greens. As people who try to avoid salad at all costs, it’s great to have a dressing which works excellently on cooked veg.

Three-cheese soufflés
Photo credit: BBC Good Food magazine

These three-cheese souffles from the wonderful Barney Desmazery at Good Food were SO rich and SO good that you must all follow the link and make them right now. (Or, at least, the next time you need a starter.) Mine looked exactly like the one in the picture.*

From some old Green ‘n’ Blacks packaging, I tried a chocolate sorbet. Unsure whether this would work or not, actually I found it to be a total winner – it may become my new failsafe ‘special’ dessert. Much quicker than making ice cream, and simple enough to be served just with a few berries, the sorbet melts in your mouth and thus turns to something rather like a cold hot chocolate. I cannot explain it better than that – you’ll have to try it to see what I mean. Bring 250ml water and 150g caster sugar to the boil and bubble for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 100g dark chocolate, then add 100ml water to the sugar syrup and whisk in the cocoa, then the melted chocolate. Freeze. It will make enough for 4 (or 1 with relationship problems).

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All these recipes have made it into my recipe scrapbook, to be enjoyed again in the future. Those that didn’t include beer doughnuts (yes, really), Co-op fruit ‘n’ nut brownies (standard problem of bad brownies: too dry and cakey) and hummus. I’m sorry, but I don’t get on well with homemade hummus, as long-standing blog readers will remember from a Sabbath week disaster two years ago. I’ve tried at least three different recipes, none of which have turned out anything close to edible, and life is too short to try a fourth when there are absolutely NO PROBLEMS with supermarket hummus. There, I’ve said it. Just call me a food slob.

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* I’m sorry I’ve been rubbish at providing any photos since this challenge began. I’m not in the habit of photographing food but resolve henceforth to remember. Failing that, I’ll continue to provide professional food pictures, so that you can imagine I live a life of immaculate presentation.

Posted in book review, busyness, family, food, hospitality, parenting, recipes

madhouse march (it’s another GIVEAWAY!!)

I’m the first to admit that this blog is not a very useful one. I don’t teach you how to braid Afro hair, give you numerous recipes for gluten-free vegans, explain some complicated piece of computing, or provide numerous rainy-day activities for hyperactive preschoolers.

If you’re new to the blog and haven’t yet sussed the vibe, it is this: I witter on about something or other for around 800 words and people read it and sometimes comment and then get on with their lives regardless. This blog does not change lives.

But, dear friends, now I want to repay you for your loyalty and commitment to my various rants. This blog is about to change your life. Get ready for it: I am about to share with you my one biggest secret to organising your family’s meals forever. Some of you may remember that way back in the distant past of January 2015, I made a resolution to cook from a different cookbook each month. Hands-down, the best and most practical family cookbook I have ever come across is the one I was lucky enough to cook from throughout March.

Madhouse Cookbook

Madhouse Cookbook, by Jo Pratt, is a pretty apt book for me – the fact that I’m writing up what I did in March when it’s nearly May should be evidence enough that we qualify under the ‘madhouse’ moniker. I have two kids to feed, as well as a husband with an odd working schedule and a lodger with an aversion to lamb, fish and meat-on-the-bone – not to mention sundry others who pop in, sometimes planned and invited, sometimes unplanned, sometimes uninvited, but always welcome. There has to be food on the table by 6pm (or else our kids will flip) and there has to be enough to feed whoever God may bring to our door that day. Jo Pratt’s recipes are flexible, child-friendly, quick, easy and yummy. I’m telling you: buy this book. It will change your life. (Get to know Jesus first though – He will change your life more. But, after that, buy this book.)

What makes this book stand out? First, nearly every recipe is pure gold in terms of flavour. Quite outstanding. From Chinese to Mexican to Italian to Indonesian, Jo Pratt has produced a stellar selection of meals which will give your kids a hugely varied diet without them even realising, whilst the grown-ups enjoy food that is in no way ‘dumbed down’. Second, there are virtually none of those recipes that you might just throw together yourself with no need for guidance. (I always get so disheartened flicking through a recipe book and seeing titles such as ‘tomato and courgette pasta’ or ‘roast chicken with garlic’ – why pay good money for recipes you don’t need?) Those few recipes which do fit this category are briefly summarised in categories, e.g. ‘Very, Very, Very Quick Pasta Dishes’ or ‘Stir Crazy’, a collection of stir-fry sauces.

Third, the book is just so comprehensive. Section one is ‘Monday to Friday survival: the need for speed’ – and it does what it says on the tin. Quick recipes, yummy flavours, great for kids and adults alike. We loved the Very Special Fried Rice, the Chicken, Cheese and Corn Quesa-d-easies and the Mediterranean Baked Chicken and Rice – all great, none of them time-consuming. We regularly use Jo’s Risotto Primavera recipe – sometimes following to the letter, sometimes varying with whatever veg we have to hand, always scrummy. Section two is ‘The Busy Weekend’ – great (but still quick) recipes to improve your weekend, from lazy brunch ideas, to baking-with-kids projects, to relaxed family meals. The Sticky Sausages with Sweet Potatoes and Peppers is a work of genius – 15min prep, then bang in the oven for an hour. Rich Vegetable Lasagne was a winner too. (And did I mention that we found plenty of new vegetarian recipes to suit our half-vegetarian diet?) Section three is ‘Cling on to your social life’ – a selection of slightly smarter recipes for when friends come round. But of course nothing takes ages to make because Jo realises you have Kids Who Are Not Tired to put to bed and All The Chaos to clear away and Unidentifiable Hardened Food to scratch off the dining table – in addition to cooking for your guests. The Beef Rendang and South Indian Chicken Curry were amazing, and the Chocolate and Ginger Brownies were so good I made them three times in one week. (Beach-ready body? Er…)

Add to all this the accurate preparation and cooking times, guidance on how many adults/kids the meal will feed, ingredients lists which don’t require a trip to a specialist deli, and plenty of tips for leftovers or how to vary the meals for fussy eaters – and you’re left with an incredible resource, not only for family life but for anyone who likes to cook. Honestly, if you want decent recipes which don’t take long to prepare, buy this book, whether or not you have kids, a spouse, a lodger, or a dog – and prepare to weep over its sheer ease and yum factor.

But don’t buy the book just yet. Because I think it’s such an invaluable aid to anyone’s cooking repertoire, I’m going to give away a copy to a commenter picked at random this Saturday at 7pm (OK, you know that this means sometime during Sunday or Monday…). This time I’d like you to comment on the most mad thing you’ve ever cooked. I once made a Marmite, sweetcorn and squid sandwich. Fire away.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO CHARLOTTE WHO WAS THE LUCKY WINNER!!

Posted in book review, cake, food, recipes

feb express

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Continuing with my one-cookbook-per-month challenge, for February I chose Nigella Express. This is a book I use regularly, but there were still plenty of recipes I wanted to try. So we stocked up on sugar, butter, cream and wine, and were ready to begin.

Oh my word, was this a wondrous month. Flavoursome Coq au Riesling, Macaroni Cheese (with a clever trick to avoid making a white sauce from scratch), Buttermilk Roast Chicken and New Orleans Coleslaw (made for a shared lunch at church) and Festive Fusilli served with Halloumi Bites (the best accompaniment to an evening catching up with a vegetarian friend).

There was not a single pudding which let us down in any way, shape or form: Caramel Croissant Pudding, Flourless Chocolate Brownies (served with ice cream), Orange French Toast, Instant Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Chip Cookies (made for a friend’s baby shower: said baby is still in there, guzzling away), Glitzy Chocolate Puddings and Ice Cream Cake (made for my birthday). I would happily eat any or all of these puddings at any time of the day or night. I swear: not one of these puddings will be absent from the Kingdom of Heaven.

It was a magical morning when we discovered the ease and deliciousness of Oeufs en Cocotte. The baked egg definitely improves upon the boiled egg for (predominantly) lack of shell, but also for the possibilities of adding chopped ham, diced mushrooms, or pretty much anything small and complementary. This and poached eggs have become my new Favourite Ways with Eggs for 2015. (Hashtag, anyone?)

The ‘Get up and Go’ chapter – a range of more interesting breakfast ideas than cereal and toast – proved popular in the Desert household. We had a Valentine’s Brunch with Smoothies, Chopped Fruit Salad, Breakfast Bruschetta, Green Eggs and Ham (pesto pancakes) and Breakfast Bars. The Pear and Ginger Muffins were sadly not as more-ish as the other options.

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Mediocre was the Red Prawn and Mango Curry – I mean, any curry is a good curry (right?) but this one wasn’t up there with my favourite curry recipes of all time (and I do have a few, so I’ve every right to be picky). The Potato and Mushroom Gratin was OK as an accompaniment, but not so good that I’d remember to get the book out again for it. Sweetcorn Chowder was a good option for a veggie dinner, served with toasted nachos and cheese, but I’m not sure I like sweetcorn enough to have a whole bowlful of it in one sitting.

The Naan Pizzas were a let down. OK so it’s a clever idea and, yes, I’ll accept that naans make better pizza bases than shop-bought pizza bases, but the suggested toppings (chiefly mushrooms) were rather lacklustre. I left these for Desert Dad and the kiddoes one evening when I hopped off to a meeting, and they were Not Impressed.

The Brandied Bacony Chicken was just not Brandied or Bacony enough to warrant the addition of these ingredients to a simple roast chicken (which, let’s face it, is one of the most Express things you can make, and tastes flippin’ fantastic with it). The Croque Monsieur Bake – basically a baked ham and cheese sarnie – was a disappointing dinner. And I just couldn’t get the Cheese Fondue to work. I mean, I did leave it unattended for an hour while I went out (accidental) but even before this, the gloopy cheese and simmering wine just didn’t want to be friends.

I think the Maple Chicken ‘n’ Ribs would have been nice, but I managed to overcook these just a little:

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Sorry Nigella.

However, on the basis that the good recipes were really, seriously good, this book is a definite keeper. And you know the best bit?

There are still loads of recipes left to try!